Thursday, September 11, 2014

25 Song Personal History

I picked up this meme over at Broken Bullhorn. It's supposed to be a snapshot of your personal history with music, I think. I just did it quick, trying to remember songs at various points in my life that were important to me.

1. Crimson and Clover – Tommy James and the Shondelles
2. Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers – Z. Z. Top
3. Last Child -- Aerosmith
4.  Head East – Never Been Any Reason
5.  Roundabout – Yes
6. White Room – Cream
7. Slow Ride – Foghat
8. Lazy -- Deep Purple
9. Bad Company – Bad Company
10. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zepplin
11. Mississippi Queen -- Mountain
12. Carry on my Wayward Son – Kansas
13. The Black Widow – Alice Cooper
14. Snowblind – Black Sabbath
15. Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones
16. All along the watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
17. Ace of Spades – Motorhead
18. Shout at the Devil – Motley Crue
19. Leper Messiah – Metallica
20. Peace Sells – Megadeth
21. Celtic Frost – Procreation of the Wicked
22. Deaf Forever – Motorhead
23. Bummer – Monster Magnet
24. Down with the Sickness – Disturbed
15. Funeral Bell -- Black Label society

Friday, September 05, 2014

Spawn of Dyscrasia

Spawn of Dyscrasia, by S.E. Lindberg, IGNIS Publishing LLC, Dyscrasia Fiction ™  235 pages. Front cover by Ken Kelly.

Well, I’m impressed. This is an entertaining fantasy novel that—I would argue—rises to the level of art. I judge that in a couple of ways. First, the actual prose here is simply lovely. It has the kind of poetry and descriptiveness to it that I constantly seek for but seldom find. Note: by lovely I don’t mean that it is sweet and bucolic. Quite the reverse. There are plenty of gore-rich scenes, enough to do a horror novel proud. But the language is so vivid and rich that you can just revel in it. At least, I did.

Second, the thing that really raises this book to the level of art is the fact that the author creates an almost entirely alien world, with many surrealistic elements, and yet never lets the imaginative veil of the story slip. There’s never a moment when you see through the strangeness of the created world to catch a glimpse of the mundane world behind it. This is the equivalent of an actor maintaining a character they are playing even outside the world of a particular film. But, a book typically takes a lot longer to write than an actor would spend living inside a character for a movie. Maintaining the illusion in a novel is hard enough even when the story is much more realistic than the fantasy world Lindberg has created here. I can imagine that doing so took a tremendous amount of focus and attention during the actual writing process. That in itself suggests an artist at work.

The world itself is endlessly fascinating and—in my experience—unique. Although there are beings in the world that resemble insects, and reptiles, and birds, none of them is quite what they seem. You can’t simple file one of the creatures under the label “ant,” or “dragon,” for example, and then feel you’ve captured its essence. They may resemble such beings, but they are not such beings. They are something different, although completely consistent within themselves throughout the story.

Although I enjoyed the book immensely, there is a caveat for the reader that I also want to mention. I would suggest that this book is not one that readers can “toss off casually.” In other words, it demands concentration and focus.  Because the author never makes a slip in world building, it means that if you try to read it with half a mind you’ll probably miss something important. I can pick up the typical thriller or western, for example, skip a page here and there, or let it lay for a week and then pick it up again, without any problem. I quickly found that I couldn’t do this with Spawn of Dyscrasia. I needed to immerse myself in the work in order to truly appreciate it.

All in all, I rate this book very highly. I read it in paperback form and am glad I did because I really like this cover as well and will be happy to see it on my shelves. (The cover is by Ken Kelly, who will be no stranger to readers of fantasy.) There is also a Kindle version of the book, though. The paperback is available from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and will run you a little less than $14.00 bucks at either site. The Kindle version is $4.99. There is currently no Nook version.

This is actually the second book of Dyscrasia fiction, by the way. The first is called Lords of Dyscrasia. I’ve not read that one and didn’t feel like I needed to in order to understand what was happening here. A third book is planned and it looks like it will be more closely linked to Spawn than Spawn was to Lords. I’ll be starting Lords of Dyscrasia soon, and will be looking forward to the new book.

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Review of Metallica: This Monster Lives

Metallica: This Monster Lives, the inside story of Some Kind of Monster, the documentary movie. Written by Joe Berlinger (the filmmaker) and Greg Milner.

I gave this three and a half stars. This is about the making of the Metallica documentary called Some Kind of Monster. The primary filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, wrote the book, with help from someone named Greg Milner. I’d never heard of either of them but then I never pay much attention to moviemakers. I've seen the movie, though, and thought it was pretty good. This gives a lot more detail and gives information that couldn't be fitted into a movie.  Here's what I liked best, 1) the stuff about Metallica and the extra details that the movie didn't show, 2) the reasons why some material that was filmed didn't make it into the movie, 3) the way in which the material was often presented out of chronological order in order to show the "essence" of the story rather than an absolute straight ahead telling, and 4) the reactions of Metallica to the movie.

Other than the fact that I don’t really buy the “essence” comment, I liked all this material. Showing material out of chronological order is manipulating the material to tell a story in a certain way and to make certain points arrived at by the filmmakers. I understand why it’s done, for dramatic effect. Although Berlinger seems to feel strongly about the “essence” of the story concept, he admits that this is a selection process, and since they filmed thousands of hours and had to cut it down to movie length you can imagine that making such choices was pretty tough.

What I didn't care as much for: a lot of information given by Joe Berlinger about his previous documentaries and how much he grew as a person while making this one. I'm in no way, shape, or form a movie buff, or even interested in the whole field of film. This material might prove much more interesting to someone who is. It was well written and flowed with the other material for the most part. I just didn’t really care. My sole interest was in the band.

The one film-related thing I did find interesting was that Berlinger is the guy who handled the filming of Blair Witch 2, which was critically lambasted but which was actually far superior to the original Blair Witch movie. That movie was a completely faked documentary, or mockumentary. In other words, Blair Witch 1 was one of the silliest moments in film history. Berlinger talked about how he didn’t like the concept of the mockumentary and I absolutely agree with him and this upped my respect for him considerably. He also talked about how the failure of Blair Witch 2 triggered a long period of depression for him and made him think his career was over. I could sympathize with him here for sure.

All in all, I liked the book quite a lot. It was perhaps a little long, and I might have liked more selected pieces of dialogue from the band, but it was worth my time.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Storm Belgium Review

I'm afraid I didn't care much for this one. As the first in a series of WWII books told from the German point of view, it sounded interesting. The back cover blurb described it as "devastatingly accurate," and began with the phrase, "The invasion of Belgium has begun.

I don't know about the devastatingly accurate part. It sounded accurate to me but I'm not an expert on this particular history. I've discovered that Gunther Lutz was probably Charles Whiting, who wrote many nonfiction books about WWII. I’ve read a few of those and generally rated them pretty highly. Thus, I can believe the accuracy statement.

However, the fictional story here was just flat out boring. It certainly didn't start with the invasion of Belgium. The book is only 186 pages long but we spent the first 125 pages following the paratroopers (Jagers) through training. There's one exciting scene during the training period, but that was it. There’s also a sex scene, which was OK and probably done to provide some “gritty” realism.

After the attack on Belgium actually began, around page 125, it concluded again after about twenty-five pages. The rest of the book was aftermath. The fighting itself was OK, though nothing to write home about. But by the time I got to it I didn't really care. Most of the characters also did not seem very realistic to me, although I liked the two main characters.

I’m sorry to say that I was very disappointed and won't be reading any more in this series. Whiting also wrote fictional WWII novels under other pseudonyms, including Leo Kessler, but I’m wary of trying any of them. I may continue to read his nonfiction but I doubt I’ll be looking at any of his fiction. At least not right away.

Here’s a quote from the section after the battle in Belgium began, and after the Jager's glider has crashed in the water. Note that it’s all one sentence.

“However, this mood of optimism was balanced by the continuing menace of the haphazard machine gun fire as the Belgian fortress troops continued to rake the mass of wreckage caught in the wing supports and control wires the shattered glider brought with it, besides turning their attention to two bodies that were now floating face down in the centre of the canal, drifting slowly away with the current at the centre of the channel, and pinkly suffusing the water as they did so.”

I’ll leave you with that. Not exactly compelling action.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The All Consuming

I've known people who have told me that they possess a "stillness" of mind. They say they can sit and just "be," without a constant yammering and clamoring from their own thoughts. I'm not such a person, though I envy those who are.

Thoughts surge constantly through my head. They careen this way and that. They roil in eddies and rush in cataracts over tumbling rocks. Many of them are anxious thoughts, worried thoughts. This is one reason I used to drink. Alcohol would shut at least some of the thoughts down.

Don't get me wrong. I like thinking. I just wish many times that I could keep my thoughts on task, that I could wield them like a hammer instead of having them act more like a spill of thumbtacks.

There are times when my thoughts do flow the way I want them. It happens if I'm reading a really good book, or watching a really good movie. I've noticed in the last few years that it happens when I get involved in playing a video game. My mind starts making dozens of decisions a minute but they are all focused, all flowing in the same direction.

It also happens when I'm writing. At least sometimes. I've come to realize that when I say, at the end of the day, "the writing went well," it's because I achieved that flow. My focus had narrowed, had become sharpened onto one primary topic, the creation of a scene. This state of flow is very pleasant to me. The worries go away. The focus becomes purely on the now, the moment of creation or involvement. I call it, "The All Consuming."

I've also realized lately that this has always been a thing with me. There's a story in my Micro Weird collection actually called "Thought Flow." It almost perfectly illustrates my point. And it was one of the first ten stories I ever wrote.

How about you? Do you possess stillness of mind, or do your thoughts run more like mine? And what do you think of "The All Consuming?" Do you experience it? Do you like it?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

New Friends in the House, and School

Just to note, I start back to school tomorrow. So at least for a while I won't be visiting blogs quite as regularly as I have during the summer. That's not what I want to talk about, though. I want to talk about books. Here goes:

New Friends in the House:

I mentioned the wonderful Mystery Cove Book Shop that we found on our Maine trip. Let me tell you what I picked up there. I would have bought a lot more if we’d not had luggage constraints. But they do have a webpage so I will probably order more through that.

First up, I got The Rat Bastards #4: Meat Grinder-Hill. They didn’t have #1 or I’d have gotten that one. This series was published by Jove Books in the 1980s and there were sixteen total books. They were written under the name John Mackie, whose real name is Len Levinson. Levinson talks about these books on his blog, and the whole series has been rereleased as ebooks. I’d heard about this series for a long time but had never actually seen a print copy. I was glad to pick this one up and look forward to reading it.

Second, I got Renegade #14: Harvest of Death. The blurb on the front reads, “Captain Gringo cuts a hot path of love and fury through a jungle in hell!”  How could I resist? This was a series of western novels written by Lou Cameron under the name Ramsay Thorne. There appear to be 36 volumes in the series. Again, I’d heard of this series for years but never seen a print copy of one. They only had #14 so that’s the one I got. I’ve read quite a lot of Cameron under his own name.

 Third, I picked up Nazi Paratrooper: Storm Belgium. This is the first in a series by Gunther Lutz. I’d never heard of this series before, but apparently there are at least five books in the series, and they tell the story of WWII from the German perspective. I couldn’t find anything on Lutz himself or on this series. The one I have is published by Sphere Books. I’m pretty curious about this but so far nothing informative has turned up. (Note: I've actually started reading this one and it is pretty weak.)

Fourth, I got Phantom Regiments, a collection of ghost war stories. The stories were selected by Robert Adams and there’s a great cover by Ken Kelley. Baen did quite a few of this kind of collection and I’ve generally enjoyed them. I see this one has quite a few negative reviews so I’ll have to see what my take is on it.

I do love talkin' 'bout books!

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